SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday, saying it was the best outcome to avoid a costly and distracting impeachment trial over sexual harassment accusations from 11 women, allegations that he still denies.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat whose impeachment was a near certainty and who still faces criminal probes of his sexual misconduct, said he will turn over control of the state in 14 days to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The Democrat will become New York’s first female governor.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said in a televised address, his voice cracking with emotion.
It was a breathtakingly rapid fall for the third-term governor, who won an Emmy in November for what the Television Academy called his “masterful” use of daily televised briefings last year to “calm people around the world” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, Democrats held up Mr. Cuomo as the decisive, level-headed alternative to President Trump. Valerie Jarrett, who served as an adviser to President Obama, said last year that Mr. Cuomo “is behaving a lot more presidential than the president.”
On his reluctant way out, Mr. Cuomo forcefully denied the harassment accusations despite voluminous evidence in a report last week by state Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat. The governor said the political environment in Albany was “too hot and too reactionary” for him to continue.
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“I am a fighter, and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated,” Mr. Cuomo said. “If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy, New Yorkers would understand. But … it is your best interests that I must serve.”
Ms. Hochul, 62, called the governor’s resignation “the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers.”
“As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York state’s 57th governor,” she said in a statement.
Democrats and Republicans expressed relief at Mr. Cuomo’s decision, but some said he still needs to be held accountable for harassment and other actions, including a cover-up of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.
“Resignation is not accountability,” said Assembly member Ron Kim, Queens Democrat. “No longer will we be held back by the circus created by Andrew Cuomo and his enablers. We will continue to pursue justice for the 16,000 nursing home families who are reeling from the failures of this administration.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican, called Mr. Cuomo’s resignation “long past overdue.” She said Mr. Cuomo should be arrested and prosecuted for sexual assault, and she called on Ms. Hochul to “clean house” in an administration stocked with Cuomo appointees.
“The systemic culture of criminal corruption, political vengeance and illegal retaliation under Andrew Cuomo was brushed under the rug for years by Democrats, the media and the cesspool of Albany,” Ms. Stefanik said. “It is a disgraceful chapter in New York’s history.”
President Biden was one of many Democrats who called on Mr. Cuomo to resign. The president on Tuesday tried to divorce Mr. Cuomo’s behavior with women from his governing.
“I respect the governor’s decision,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “He’s done a hell of a job. That’s why it’s so sad.”
Mr. Cuomo resigned a week after Ms. James released a report concluding that he violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing 11 women, several of whom worked for him and one of whom was a state trooper on his protective detail.
Democratic leaders of the state Assembly said Monday that they would pick up the pace of their impeachment investigation and were aiming for a vote next month. A significant majority of Assembly members said they would vote to impeach.
Mr. Cuomo’s inner circle and political machine were crumbling. Top aide Melissa DeRosa quit on Sunday, and labor unions had abandoned him in his bid for reelection next year.
Mr. Cuomo said he was quitting not because he was guilty but because an impeachment trial would “generate months of political and legal controversy.”
“It will consume government. It will brutalize people. It will cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” he said. “Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing. I cannot be the cause of that. I love New York, and I love you.”
Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said Monday that the state’s investigation had already cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Even as he quit, the 63-year-old Mr. Cuomo insisted that he had not sexually harassed or assaulted anyone.
“The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. The reaction was outrage. It should have been,” he said. “However, it was also false. The most serious allegations made against me had no credible factual basis in the report. This is not to say there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. For that, I deeply, deeply apologize.”
He blamed “generational and cultural shifts” for women taking his gestures the wrong way.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I have been too familiar with people. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
He apologized in particular to the female state trooper who said he touched her inappropriately and made suggestive remarks.
“If she said I did it, I believe her,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I just wasn’t thinking. But it was also insensitive. It was disrespectful to her. I want to personally apologize to her and her family. I have the greatest respect for her.”
A Quinnipiac University poll found last week that 70% of New York voters, including 88% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats, thought Mr. Cuomo should resign. His job approval rating is 28%, the lowest ever since the three-term governor took office in 2011.
Some New Yorkers reacted with a mixture of relief and sadness.
“I was relieved that he chose to resign instead of putting the state through an impeachment process,” said Louise Magnarelli of Syracuse, a Democrat. “I’m terribly disappointed in what he’s been accused of. I really held him in high esteem last year through COVID. I thought he did a very good job of informing the general public and leading us through that pandemic. And now, for this to be the way he goes out, is really disturbing. I’m sad that he’s going out on this note.”
Donna Page, a retiree from Henderson, said it’s good that Mr. Cuomo resigned over the harassment accusations, but her reaction was still “mixed.”
“I’m actually I’m kind of sorry that he is resigning,” she said. “He’s done so much in terms of this COVID. I think he got us through it. I used to listen to him almost every single day. Are there things that he could have done better? Yes, just like anybody.”
Some observers of New York politics said Mr. Cuomo had been clinging to power partly because of the memory of his late father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, who lost his bid for a fourth term in 1994 to Republican George E. Pataki in an upset. Andrew Cuomo has been aiming to win a fourth term in 2022.
“The father-son thing is very powerful,” said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. “The father couldn’t get a fourth term, and that was one of the things that was on Andrew Cuomo’s ‘to do’ list.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.